“Pull away from the cliffs! Don’t let them sink this ship! Those damned idiots won’t make fools of us. Where’d they go?” Santigo shouted to his crew over the cacophony of cannon fire.
“Sir, they fled the cove,” said Haigus, Santigo’s pilot.
Santigo turned from the cliff’s seeing Sebastian’s Spear tear over a fishing ship as it made way from the bay to the open sea. “Signal to the captain general. Let them know we’re making for the Spear.”
“Yessir,” Hiagus made his way to the signaling flags, but stopped short when four cannon volleys erupted one after the other from the Spear. He and Santigo braced for an impact that never came. Santigo turned his attention to Rodrigo’s Might, the captain general’s ship. The ship lay in a smoky ruin, slowly sinking into the shallow bay.
“Pull out the oars! Make for the captain general’s galleon!” Santigo shouted. Dominus sat on the main deck, resting from his climb onto the ship. His lips curled into a slight smirk.
“Where is he? Where is Captain General Diago?” Santigo shouted over the crewmen that rowed the boats alongside his own.
“We haven’t found him yet, Captain. We haven’t found anyone; anyone alive at least,” one of the crewman said.
“Fuck!” Santigo tore off his coat and dived into the water. He dove through the clear water, searching frantically until his lungs squeezed him back to the surface. After a deep breath, Santigo dove again. And again. And again until he found the scorched and disfigured remains of Diago Catria. The captain general’s burnt hat caught under a cannon along with the lower half of the man’s body. His eyes were open and surprised. A cannon ball had drilled a hole into Diago’s chest. Santigo returned to his boat and climbed aboard, heaving for breath.
“Let them go, I said!” Dominus said. “I told you the Good Brother would punish disobedience. Now the life you sought has been returned to your own beloved captain general.”
“This was not the work of your god, Faithful Brother. This was the work of our devil. Captain Garlan did this. He fired those cannons and killed Diago. He killed him and the fucker will pay.” Santigo rung out his shirt, pulled his coat back over his shoulders, and tied his belt around his waist.
“Do not be so sure. Yes, Captain Garlan killed your crew. He slaughtered many men that should not have died today, but this burden is yours. So much precious life could have been saved if we followed the will and plans of the Good Brother and not those of you and your captain general!” Dominus peered down at Santigo.
“I will not take the blame for what that man has done. Keep your place in check, Faithful Brother. You are not my ship’s chaplain, and you haven’t been given a charter by Prince Rodrigo. If you wish to stay aboard with my crew to see through the faith’s end of the bargain, then you will clamp your mouth and leave the faith out of this! Garlan killed Diago. No one else. And Garlan will pay for killing him. This is the first shot in a civil war between Prince Sebastian and Prince Rodrigo that will envelope the entire country. All for the sake of a fancy chair. Do you think it will be worth it, Dominus? Embroiling the entire country in a war so you can build some more temples in exotic places?”
“The war did not have to start. That was not the Faith’s doing, nor intention. We only do what we must for the salvation of the people of Forsey. If Forsey goes to war with itself we will not involve the Faith. We will, however, support and do whatever is necessary to keep the Faith alive, powerful, and influential over the people, for their sake. That is my charge as a Faithful Brother. To make sure that no matter what conflict the people face, they remember that it all means nothing in the end. Not your creeds, your princes, your country, nothing. Because the only thing that matters is the Faith.”
“Live a month without that robe and sash protecting you, Faithful Brother, and you’ll understand soon enough what these men will fight for. You’ll understand how you helped cause this war. Trust me. For now, we have to return to Whiteguard. The Hope of Harlov is in need of repairs. Besides, Rodrigo’s Glory will be waiting for us. She’s a mightier ship than the Spear, faster too. With Garlan’s seabarks and the new ship, we’ll take him down and hopefully prevent a war from even happening. Do I have the Faith’s approval in that, Dominus? Or will you again scold me for actions I do not commit?”
“You have my support. We will go back to Whiteguard and consult with the Prince. He will decide the fate of the ships, the seabarks, and Garlan,” Dominus said, backing away from Santigo and dropping into the straight wooden seat of the rowboat.
“There’s only two things we need, a ship and the seabarks. So where are my goddamn seabarks?” Garlan yelled as he turned over the table in his cabin.
“Perhaps Dominus took them,” said the ship’s bailiff, Yozen de Mar, while he stood at the doorway to Garlan’s cabin.
“No shit he took them, Bailiff. Where have you even been in all this? Our crew is massacred and the ship half blown to the seafloor and you just now show up as we run off, tail tucked between our legs. Didn’t have the balls to stand up to Rodrigo’s vermin, did you? You’re all the same.” Garlan pushed past Yozen de Mar as he trudged down the hall.
“What did I miss again? Sorry, I overslept. I heard bits of it from some of the crew on my way over to see the captain. Much to my surprise, the captain is you again. Strange occurrences aboard the Spear. So much change in leadership will make your head spin.”
“What do you want, Bailiff?”
“I’m only here to keep the Prince’s laws and his peace.”
“You won’t take my title again. Now that the crew’s seen what Dominus has done, they won’t trust another soul that isn’t me, Sebastio, or Ferethi.”
“Nor do I blame them. They’ve been through a lot. Considering the circumstances, the results of your trial may have been a bit rigged, given the reality of the situation. So, by the Prince’s own law you are still captain, as far as I’m concerned.” Yozen de Mar kept pace with Garlan.
“I won’t forget that it was you who put Dominus in charge of this ship. You gave him the power to start all of this. As far as I’m concerned, you’re the one who killed my crew.” Garlan stopped at the doors leading to the quarterdeck and rested his hand on the latch.
“My duty is to uphold the Prince’s laws, as I’ve said. The law is clear, if the crew votes to condemn in the trial then I must uphold their decision. Truly, then, the crew sealed their own fate, did they not? I know you want someone to blame in all this—at the very least someone within your immediate reach—but sadly you are looking in the wrong places. Reserve your anger for your enemies, Captain. And your only enemies now are the Prince’s enemies. Your mission is his key to claiming the throne over Prince Rodrigo. The other princes will support no one’s claim if they do not honor the pact. If we fail, then we risk the country splitting into pieces. We risk a civil war that will massacre tens of thousands of our people and weaken Forsey for centuries afterwards. And by extension, it will bring Torith to ruin without Forsey’s economic protections. Just a few things to think about. I’m going back to my cabin. I’ve grown awfully tired standing around. Please, let me know when we next make port. I could use some rest in a proper bed.” Yozen de Mar turned from Garlan and sauntered down the hall and disappeared behind one of the many cabin doors. Garlan sighed and thrust the doors open to the blinding sun.
“How far from the Isle are we?” Garlan threw his question into the wind, knowing at least one person would hear and answer him.
“It’d take at least a few hours for any Whiteguard ship to catch up to us, assuming we drop anchor and wait. Considering the damage we did, I’d say it’s more likely two days. We’re far enough to chart a course elsewhere,” Sebastio’s head popped over the railing above Garlan and looked down at the captain.
“Aye, not too bad of an escape, but not one good enough. Set course for the Eve. We have failed our mission. Get these boys home before we all succumb to the sea.” Garlan surveyed the ship and watched as the seamen scurried about repairing holes, scrubbing blood from the wood, and wrapping wounds at the direction of Marcus.
“Captain? We’ve the advantage over Santigo and Dominus now. If we make way for the corridor to cross the sea at this moment, we’ll beat them. They can’t possibly make it back to Whiteguard, build a new ship, and be back in time to catch us as we make way on the currents. That’s assuming they’d even know where to go to cross the sea.” Sebastio slid down the ladder from the upper deck and avoided the pile of bodies that lay strewn across the quarter deck.
“Dominus took the seabarks. All of them. They’ll know exactly where to cross and where to find us. We have to return to the Eve and hope that Prince Sebastian will charter the repairs on this ship and give us another crew. We will make the Spear ready for war and then we can set out in search of Rodrigo’s ship, and blow each and every one that tries to cross, or return, from the sea to hell.” Garlan rubbed his hands over the splintered railing on the edge of the ship. Bits of the smooth dark stained wood remained intact, but the battled had chipped, scratched, and blown most of it away.
“We can’t go back! Not after what we’ve been through! We’ll return to a war! Do you think the Prince will commission a charter to blockade the sea when there’s a civil war raging between him and Rodrigo?”
“It doesn’t matter, Sebastio! My goddamn seabarks are gone. We can’t even cross without those. Do you have any idea how long it took to find them? To create them? You’re just as ignorant as the rest of this crew. We’ll return and take our chances with the Prince.”
“We don’t need the seabarks. I know them. We can cross the sea. Trust me, captain. I’ve studied them enough to recreate the most important charts from memory. I know where the currents lie and which ones will lead us to the right place. We can do this, Captain! I can do this.” Sebastio placed a hand on Garlan’s shoulder. Something about Sebastio’s soft eyes and billowing feathered hat reminded Garlan of his own son. The rambunctious boy loved the sea and his father’s stories of adventure. It was all Garlan could do to keep him from stowing away. However, that had been a long time ago. Garlan had not seen his family in ten years. He knew that his family was taken care of. A promise a local nobleman made to him in the city of Walrun, before that nobleman’s murder, kept them safe. The nobleman’s family continued to honor the promise so long as Garlan did not return to Walrun.
“I thought I told you to take off that damn hat. It looks ridiculous and I won’t have that on my ship. You know the seabarks then.”
“Yes, Captain, I do.”
“Start remaking them. We’ll make for the Sunken Isles to replenish our crew and supplies. Don’t stop until you’ve finished. We need it done in order to beat Santigo to the sea.”
“Thank you, Captain. I’ll have it done, I swear it!” Sebastio gave Garlan a slight bow and rushed into officer cabins to start his work. Garlan shouted his orders to Jeremiah to have the crew ready to make way for the Sunken Isles just off the coast of Imperium. The ship creaked as it turned toward the North East and caught hold of the wind. A spray of seawater surged over the cracked railings of main deck and washed off the other side dyed red. By the second day of sailing toward the Sunken isles, the putrid smell of rot finally stayed behind in the night. The rain water washed down the sides of the ship, clean. The ship, still worn and bruised, breathed its first breath of life as the crew emerged from their sleep to find the air refreshing. With the lingering bloody rot brushed free from the wood of the ship, and the free flowing casks of whiskey, the crew jumped at their duties in a renewed vigor that would fill any driver of men with envy.
On the third day of the voyage the ship fell again into the deep as dark clouds gathered over the heads of the plagued crewmen. Marcus Delacia wiped sweat from his forehead with a blood-soaked rag and gagged at the bucket of bile and excrement he dumped over the side of the ship. Nothing he did could keep the smell from wafting out of the infirmary. The smell of men dying, not from wounds, but from disease; dying slow, tortuous deaths that allowed each man to hang on to hope life for far too long. A good, honorable disease will kill a man in a day, maybe three. An evil, deceitful disease took its sweet time. No one had died yet, but they had no chance to survive. Marcus knew that much. It started in their eyes. Each eye would bleed a smelly ooze. The day after the ears would bleed a clotted black blood. On the third day, the shaking would start. It was an uncontrollable seizure that left the diseased man in tears if they remained conscious. Every three days the symptoms would repeat. Every third day a man would lose part of himself. At the end of the second cycle, not a single infected man didn’t beg for death. Marcus Delacia refused to give up on them.
“We can’t wait any longer. We have to make port now!” Marcus said to Ferethi as he dropped the bucket to the deck and let out a deep breath, then took in another of crisp bile filled air.
“Could you at least clean the bucket?” Ferethi said.
“With what do you suggest I clean it? I’ve got some extra blood and shit I can scrub in there. How about that?” Marcus kicked the bucket to Ferethi.
“We can’t make port until we reach the Sunken Isles. If we try in any Whiteguard territory, we’ll all be killed.”
“These men don’t have a choice! We’re still few days away from the Isles. If we don’t make port tonight, and I know we can if we just turn west. The port city of Horingild is there, not too far South of the Imperium border. That has to be safe enough to at least get these men off the ship and to the university there. We don’t have the tools to take care of these men. They’ll all die. Perhaps all of us too if we can’t get this sickness under control!” Marcus stood and raised his voice.
“Don’t you get insolent with me, Surgeon. You’re still under my command on this ship and I won’t have my inferior screaming orders at me. The next time you burst out like that, we’ll throw you and all your sick men overboard and be done with it. Do you understand?”
Marcus clenched his fists and sighed, “Yes sir. I understand.”
“Good. I heard from Sebastio that this disease only affected those who lived on the borders of Forsey. Those of ‘unpure blood’ as some nobles put it,” Ferethi said.
“I was wrong about that. It has no preference for any man. Nor does the means of transmission make sense. Some studies by the scholars at Garenhold have concluded that sickness spreads through water. So rain, the sea, drinking water, all of this can spread some sorts of sickness. I’ve tested this and kept parts of the crew away from water. Giving them only whiskey or wine to drink. Even then they’ve still succumbed. It must be something else entirely. Something no scholar has seen.”
“And nothing you’ve done has helped those who have fallen ill?”
“Nothing as of late. There are a few things I could try, but I need the tools. Tools I can only get at a college or university. Perhaps even a local doctor would have them.”
“Tools you must wait for until we reach the Sunken Isles. I’m sorry, Marcus, but the sick will have to wait. Garlan won’t take the risk. It’s a far greater risk to make port in Whiteguard than to let the sick men suffer. I won’t take it either,” Ferethi turned from Marcus and made his way toward the quarter deck.
“Wait, Ferethi, please let me talk to the Captain about this. Let me make a case before him,” Marcus grabbed Ferethi’s arm. Ferethi winced back and tore his arm away.
“I’ll talk to him and let you know what he says,” Ferethi said and then quickened his pace. Marcus watched Ferethi leave, then knelt down to pick up his bucket. The vile air wafting over the ship from the infirmary hung over Marcus. He took a deep breath through his nose, gagged, and tossed the bucket over the side of the ship.